Unemployment Claims Above 3 Million for Seventh Straight Week

    Some economists expect monthly unemployment rate to be 16 percent.

    Chairs by an empty bar-top in a restaurant.
    Unsplash/Jonas Jacobsson

    For the seventh consecutive week, more than three million Americans filed for unemployment, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

    In the week ending May 2, 3.2 million filed claims, down 677,000 from last week’s total. Over 30 million have turned to unemployment in those seven weeks, an unprecedented number in U.S. history.

    CNN reported that economists surveyed by Refinitiv, a provider of financial marketing data, expect April’s unemployment rate to be around 16 percent. During the Great Depression, the unemployment rate peaked at 24.9 percent in 1933. Those same economists also believe April saw a loss of 21.85 million jobs. That means the 22 million jobs gained in the decade since the Great Recession were wiped out in just over a month.

    After weekly unemployment reached a record 6.9 million in the week ending March 28, claims have fallen each week, albeit still above three million. More than 20 percent of the domestic labor force has filed for unemployment in the past two months.

    The highest unemployment rates in the week ending April 18 were in Vermont (25.2 percent), West Virginia (21.9 percent), Michigan (21.7 percent), Rhode Island (20.4 percent), Nevada (19.9 percent), Connecticut (18.7 percent), Puerto Rico (17.9 percent), Georgia (17.3 percent), New York (17.2 percent), and Washington (17.1 percent).

    On April 21, the National Restaurant Association said eight million jobs were lost in the food and drink industry—a figure that has surely increased in the following weeks. The Association estimated that $80 billion was lost in April and that the industry is on track to lose $240 billion by the end of 2020.

    Furloughed workers are starting to return as more than a dozen states have allowed restaurants to reopen dining rooms, although at limited capacity. Some states are stricter than others, like in Texas, where only 25 percent of capacity is permitted. But many operators are hesitant to reopen and employees may choose to stick with unemployment benefits, which were expanded under the CARES Act. In some cases, an employee could make more on unemployment than his or her job.

    Major organizations within the industry have continued to ask the federal government for direct relief. The Association asked for a $240 billion recovery fund while the Independent Restaurant Coalition wants a $120 stabilization fund that excludes publicly traded companies and large chains.

    The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation created the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund to help restaurant workers impacted by COVID-19. In partnership with Food Network star Guy Fieri, the fund has raised more than $15 million. Eligible applicants receive a one-time payment of $500 to use toward bills, including housing, transportation, utilities, childcare, groceries, medical bills and/or student loans.